I suspect that when Americans think about retiring abroad, they focus on Latin American countries, due to proximity and because places like Panama, Belize, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic usually show up on Best Places to Retire Abroad lists. Well, you won’t find any of those four countries in the Top 10 of The World’s Best Places to Retire in 2017 from Live and Invest Overseas.
What you will find is a preponderance of Europe (six of the Top 10) plus a smattering of Mexico (two places) and Asia (two places, both in Malaysia).
Another surprise: eight of those didn’t even make the Top 10 in the 2016 list from Live and Invest Overseas. “That surprised me too,” said Lief Simon, investment editor at Live and Invest Overseas and husband of the group’s founder and publisher, Kathleen Peddicord.
In this year’s Top 10, the Algarve region of southern Portugal ranked No. 1 (for the fourth year in a row). Rounding out the list: 2. Valletta, Malta (it was No. 2 last year, too); 3. Mazatlán, Mexico; 4. Abruzzo, Italy; 5. Saint-Chinian, France; 6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 7. Lisbon, Portugal; 8. Budapest, Hungary; 9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and 10. George Town, Malaysia. (View the accompanying slideshow to learn a bit about each of them.)
By contrast, rival International Living’s Best Places to Retire Abroad list, which I wrote about earlier this year, had six other countries in its Top 10 for 2017. Only Mexico, Malaysia, Portugal and Malta appeared in both lists. International Living ranks countries; Live and Invest Overseas ranks cities, towns and regions.
Live and Invest Overseas’ Top 10 list had a seismic shakeup compared to 2016 for two reasons: The strong U.S. dollar has made Europe more affordable (though big cities like Paris, London and Rome are still pricey). And the rankers changed their methodology. As in the past, they combined data with on-the-ground knowledge of their editors. But this year, they broadened their list from 21 “Best Places” to 30 by selecting one winner and one runner-up in Latin America, Europe and Asia in five broad categories.
So, why won’t you find the likes of Panama or Ecuador on this year’s Live and Invest Overseas Best Places to Retire Abroad list? Simon, who with Peddicord has been living in Panama until recently, said: “Part of it is that a lot of the areas we’ve talked about [in Latin America] have become more expensive. And European destinations do so well on things like infrastructure.”
You can learn much more about the Live and Invest Overseas ranking and its winners at the group’s site or by attending its Retire Overseas Conference in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 ($895 per per person).
1. Portugal’s Algarve Region
Live and Invest Overseas scored this Old World region especially strong for safety and health care. But the true claims to fame for this expat-friendly area (English is widely spoken) are climate and recreation. There’s year-round sunshine, 100 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline and 42 golf courses.
Live and Invest Overseas also calls The Algarve “the best retirement option in Western Europe for the retiree on a budget.” The cost of living is about 30% lower than on the Continent. An unfurnished, two-bedroom apartment rents for about $720 now.
Lief Simon, the investment editor at Live and Invest Overseas, says Portugal has two residency options that may interest expat retirees: The Golden Visa program, which requires you to stay in the country only one week a year as long as you purchase real estate in the country (there are rules on the minimum value) or what Simon calls the “self-sufficiency” residency, permitted if your income is at least roughly $1,300 a month. For that residency, you must spend least half the year in Portugal.
One caveat: “Real estate prices are starting to come up,” Simon says. “It’s still relatively affordable.”
2. Valletta, Malta
Ranked No. 2 in the Live and Invest Overseas list last year, too, Valletta is the capital of the tiny Mediterranean country due south of Sicily and north of the North African coast. Here, says Simon, you can qualify for residency by renting a house or an apartment exceeding certain thresholds. (Typical monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Valletta currently: $915.) Live and Invest Overseas says Valletta isn’t one of the prettiest parts of Malta, but it is quite lively at night.
3. Mazatlan, Mexico
Known for its North American expat community, this Pacific coast beach resort has, according to Live and Invest Overseas, “a little bit of everything” — 20 miles of beaches, world-class fishing, historical attractions, delicious street food and an international airport. Climate? Tropical, with a wet season and a dry season.
4. Abruzzo, Italy
Live and Invest Overseas calls Abruzzo “the most overlooked and undervalued” region in Central Italy. The cost of living is 30 to 70% less than in Tuscany or Umbria, the researchers say. A retired couple could live here on about $1,400 a month, including rent, according to the Live and Invest Overseas editors. There’s easy access to beaches in the summer and skiing in the winter.
5. Saint-Chinian, France
Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, Saint-Chinian may be best known for its red, white and rosé wines. Live and Invest Overseas says you can live and retire comfortably here for under 1,800 euros a month, which works out to about $2,100.
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The top-ranked Asian location in the 2017 Best Places to Retire Abroad list from Live and Invest Overseas, the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur has more than 7 million people. So, quiet and remote it’s not. But it is, the researchers say, one of the world’s “most affordable, exotic, and at the same time, fully appointed and comfortable places to retire.” Monthly rent here: About $560. Travel a bit out of the city and you’ll hit rural villages, where life is slower. Foreigners are welcome in Kuala Lumpur and almost everyone speaks “adequate English,” say Live and Invest Overseas’ editors.
7. Lisbon, Portugal
The second of two Portuguese spots in the Top 10 List of Live and Invest Overseas’ Best Places to Retire Abroad (Portugal’s Algarve region ranked No. 1), Lisbon offers many of the attractions of costlier European capitals. Plus: beaches! It’s an easy plane ride over from the United States; there are regular daily flights from Newark, N.J. and Miami. Monthly rent: About $770.
8. Budapest, Hungary
The only Eastern European spot in the Top 10 Best Places to Retire Abroad from Live and Invest Overseas, bustling Budapest is becoming trendy with retirees as well as Millennials. It’s one of the largest and, Live and Invest Overseas says, “most metropolitan” cities in Europe. The editors also call Budapest one of the best destinations to enjoy a full life of entertainment.
9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Dubbed by some locals as the best place in the world to retire, this semi-desert valley in central Mexico made the Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 partly because of its large, welcoming expat community. The editors say there are also classes in two to three dozen subjects at any time in this friendly small town. A couple can live and retire here for less than $1,500 a month, according to Live and Invest Overseas.
10. George Town, Malaysia
Smaller and slower than the other Malaysian locale in the Live and Invest Overseas Top 10 Places to Retire Abroad (Kuala Lumpur was No. 6), George Town is the capital of Penang (Island of Pearls), west of the mainland. The editors say the island has excellent medical care and reasonably priced and that locals communicate largely in English. ECA International called George Town the most livable city in Malaysia and a few years back, Lonely Planet dubbed Penang the top food destination in the world — dining choices include Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and more, often for about $3 a person. A small furnished apartment rents for less than $300 a month; a large villa with an ocean view rents for more like $3,000 a month.